By Emeka Obasi
If you were away from soccer in the 1970s, keep reading until you discover the mass movement called Enugu Rangers. The Flying Antelopes represented more than football for they transformed from club to Renaissance. One of those who made us love them, Nwabueze Peter Nwankwo, is no more.
We all knew him as Bulldozer. Yes, Nwankwo was strong, he was huge and of course, could kick the hell out of a rampaging attacker. That was a defensive midfielder that did not have the cha cha cha of Jay Jay Okocha but could charge at goal like a bull.
His demise got many talking and thinking. Sam Onyeaka, the speedstar who was known in his Rangers days as 404 began deliberations. Charles Okonkwo, Hurricane, who also played for Rangers tried to sign into the past. Super fan, Donnie Emeka Ikpa, joined the fray.
They put me through to Grand Patron of Ex-Rangers Players worldwide, Sir Benson Ejindu, Ezeomeogo of Oba. It turned out to be another kind of Constitutional Conference. We all got fixated on the need for Enugu Rangers Hall of Fame.
It bothered us all that should this generation pass away, there would be no monumental edifice to tell posterity about our Rangers International. Last year it was Chukwuma ‘Its a goal’ Igweonu. This year Nwankwo has left. Of the 1970 pioneers, we started to do arithmetic of how many had departed.
It was 2am Nigerian time, Monday January 25, 2021. Ezeomeogo was still a day behind in Charlotte, North Carolina. Achimota, that is another of Onyeaka’s nicknames was in another part of the United States, just like Ikpa. Hurricane was blowing in the United Kingdom.
Ejindu got in touch with Kenneth ‘ Magician’ Abana, who was still awake somewhere in Anambra. We tried to confirm a list of the pioneers. Abana was the youngest member of the squad in 1970. He also scored Rangers’ first local and international goals.
Ejindu also contacted Emma ‘Tallest’ Okala as we tried to know those still living with us. Okala was an understudy to first choice goalie Cyril ‘Flying Cat’ Okosieme until the 1972 season. Coach Dan Anyiam had seen Okala stop Godwin Achebe’s penalty when Enugu Black Rocks tackled Onitsha Red Devils. That was enough to give him a place in Rangers.
The list was confirmed. Skipper Godwin ‘Ide’ Achebe. Johnny ‘ Wheeler’ Nwosu. Mathias ‘Wonder Boy’ Obianika. Godwin ‘Alan Ball’ Adimachukwu. Luke ‘ Jazz Bucana’ Okpala. Nwabueze ‘ Bulldozer’ Nwankwo. Chukwuma ‘It’s a goal’ Igweonu. Cyril ‘ Flying Cat’ Okosieme. Dominic ‘Alhaji’ Nwobodo. Sam ‘ Onyembi’ Nwachukwu. Peter ‘General Gason’ Okeke. Teddy ‘Aji Obi’ Anikputa. Kenneth ‘Magician’ Abana. Emmanuel ‘ Tallest’ Okala. Ernest Ufele. Emma Ojirika. Shedrach Ajaero. Sam Okoh. Godwin Nwosa. Patrick Ozua and Ray Ohaeri.
Abana and Okala helped as we sought the living. Nwobodo, Okeke, Anikputa, Ojirika, Okoh, Ozuah and Ohaeri are still very much around. The last time I saw Ohaeri was in the late 1970s when he was with the Imo Sports Council as a coach alongside Isaac Nnado and Paulinus Nzerem.
Ejindu promised to locate the living Flying Antelopes as we harped on the Rangers Hall of Fame. He said efforts had been made in the past to get it started.
“I have to tell you how far I have gone towards accomplishing that. I searched around Enugu with Okala for a good location. I went to see governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and explained everything to him. I showed him the initial plan drawn by one Ejike.
“The governor wanted us to expand on the drawing. I told him I needed a nice location. He agreed. We were supposed to meet again but we have not. I intend to travel to Enugu when we are done with Covid,” the Grand Patron told me.
Ejindu is doing a good job. He is in touch with many Rangers veterans. He is one of the major sponsors of Rangers Union, a global event which began in 2014. When Houston, Texas hosted in 2018, Ezeomeogo extended invitation to Segun Odegbami and Samson Siasia. Both stars did not play for Rangers.
The Rangers Union is like a carnival. In the United States, former players make it bubble. Dominic ‘ Hugo Harris’ Ezeani. Godwin ‘ Pele’ Ogbueze. Onyeaka. Emma Merenini. Charles ‘Wagner’ Adimora. Okey Ozo. Donald ‘ Stone’ Igwebuike. Ikechukwu Ofoje. Charles ‘Warrior’ Okoye. Nnamdi ‘Policeman’ Anyafo. Kenneth Boardman. Totty Okoro Totty. You will see those faces anew.
When there was Reunion in Enugu, it drew a larger gathering. That was the first time many saw Harrison ‘ Mecha okpukpu’ Mecha, the rugged defender, after the creation of Imo State in 1976. He came wearing the Ohafia War Dancers hat. Christian Madu was there, shortly before he passed on. Stanley ‘ Englishman’ Okoronkwo, Dr. Johnny Egbuonu, Francis ‘ German Wall’ Nwosu, Jude Agada, Hakeem Ashiru, Ndubuisi Ajomiwe, name them. All were there.
Ejindu was one of the first to visit the Dream Team in Atlanta when they were stranded on their way to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The team returned the favour by signing a T- Shirt which Siasia handed over to him.
He said: “ Emeka Ikpa called me. I drove four hours to Atlanta to make them comfortable. I also gave them 10, 000 dollars for winning the bronze medal.”
He eulogized Bulldozer. “A pure gentleman. A good husband and father who instilled the news for a good education in his kids. I am very sure that the family is very proud of Nwabueze Nwankwo. A captain of the Biafra Army. Hero of the Igbo nation. The man with the longest throw in the History of Nigerian soccer. The Rangers family will always be with the family.”
Ejindu also prayed God to heal Chairman Christian Chukwu, a regular at the Reunion, home and abroad, with Okala.